Life is conducted these days, for the most part, on a first-name basis. On those rare occasions when someone introduces me as “Rev. Scott,” I quickly add, “just Jerry, please.” Informality has become the rule almost everywhere. Some miss the code that demanded differing kinds of clothing depending on the situation, but who even knows what it means to get dressed up for dinner these days? The dark suit and tie that once was the uniform for Sunday morning has given way to the short-sleeved shirt and jeans. The mystery that once cloaked people who held office has been stripped away and now leaders live under the unblinking stare of the TV camera, revealed as ordinary mortals which they always were. So, why am I talking about this?
Has our informality invaded our relationship with God? Have we made Him too much like us, good theology lost to pop culture ideas about Who He is? Despite his wonderful acting skills, Morgan Freeman, who played “God” in two hit movies, Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty, is no substitute for the Holy One. Discomfort with patriarchal systems has caused many to abandon the Scripture’s revelation of God as Father. Others subconsciously take that word and God becomes, in their minds, an old, benevolent Grandpa. Equally troubling is the irreverent, meant to be funny, characterization of Him as “the Man upstairs.”
Why does any of this matter? Am I just splitting hairs over words? I think not. Poor theology, failure to understand God as He reveals Himself, weakens faith to the point of its failure. A small god gives us a small faith.
A story told by D. McCollough illustrates my point. “When Lloyd C. Douglas, author of The Robe, was a university student, he lived in a boarding house. An elderly, retired music teacher, infirm and unable to leave the apartment, resided on the first floor. Douglas and the man had a ritual for the morning. He would come down the steps, open the old man’s door, and ask, “Well, what’s the good news?” The old man would pick up his tuning fork, tap it on the side of his wheelchair and say, “That’s middle C! It was middle C yesterday; it will be middle C tomorrow; it will be middle C a thousand years from now. The tenor upstairs sings flat, the piano across the hall is out of tune, but, my friend, THAT is middle C!” The old man had discovered one thing upon which he could depend, one constant reality in his life, one “still point in a turning world.” (The Trivialization of God, NavPress, 1995)
Moses, when commissioned to lead God’s people out of Egypt to the Promised Land, asked the Lord Who appeared to him in a burning bush, what to say when asked the source of his authority to act. “Who shall I tell them has sent me?” “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14, NIV) Great wonder and amazing mystery is wrapped up in that phrase. God reveals Himself as Eternal and Self-existent, without first cause, without predecessor.
Isaiah, when called to preach to Judah’s corrupt society about the pending judgment, is given a vision. It might seem weird to modern minds, but let the text speak. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:1-5, NIV) God reveals Himself as HOLY – “wholly other, unique, not like anything created” to Isaiah. He also is Almighty – “Lord of Hosts” in some translations, a term that describes Him as awesomely powerful. How does Isaiah respond? Not with glee, to be sure. He trembles!
Few tremble at the mention of the Name of God. Awe and wonder are rare in our worship, personal and corporate. Our familiarity with God has made us think of Him as less than powerful which has weakened our faith and brought us prayers with little aspiration of the revelation of His glory. Are we too often guilty of rushing into His presence, whether privately or in our church gatherings, to sing songs with half a heart, to hear sermons with half a mind, to pray only hopeful, but largely faithless prayers as we drift off to sleep? To attend to worship of the Creator of the Universe while thinking about the lesser things of our lives certainly must offend the GREAT I AM.
He reveals that He can be known, through Christ who invites us to ‘boldly approach the Throne of grace,’ and through the Holy Spirit sent to live not just with us, but in us. We should be ever so grateful that He is both immanent (here now in His creation) and transcendent (larger than time and place); our God who great and loving at the same moment. Great faith rests on the foundation of a great God, not of our making, but who is revealed to us through His wonderful works, through the Scripture, and in Christ Jesus, who came to show us the Father.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20, NIV)
Christian friend, let’s not allow the informalities of life in 21st century America cause us to turn the “Great I AM” into the Divine Buddy. I make no case for making God into a remote, unapproachable Deity. He is loving, good, and majestic Lord of great glory all at the same time! Pray for a new revelation of His majesty. Learn to quiet your mind and your emotions before Him, making a place to know a part of Him left unknown by many.
The word from the Word – “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be destroyed, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29, NLT)
“Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise! He is to be revered above all the gods.|The gods of other nations are merely idols, but the Lord made the heavens! Honor and majesty surround him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. …
Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor. Let all the earth tremble before him.” (Psalm 96:4-6, 9 NLT)
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art;
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.
Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
O let me seek Thee, and O let me find!
Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heaven descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame. — George Croly